Now that the spring climbing season in the Himalaya is officially over, the attention of the mountaineering world turns to Alaska and the challenging slopes of Denali. Standing 6194 meters (20,320 ft) in height, Denali is the tallest mountain in North America and a formidable climb in its own right. In fact, the mountain has a relatively narrow climbing window that begins in May and runs into early July, during which time the bulk of the mountaineers who wish to summit will attempt it.
One of the hallmarks of Denali is its ferocious weather which can be felt at nearly any time of the year, but is a bit more predictable during the warmer summer months. While it doesn’t match the stature of the big Himalayan peaks, or even some of the mountains in the Andes, it’s particularly high latitude presents its own issues. For one, high winds and cold weather temperatures are common and the barometric pressures make Denali seem like a mountain that is much taller than its 6194 meters would imply.
Denali also happens to have the greatest vertical gain of any mountain on the planet, rising some 5181 meters (17,000 ft) above the surrounding countryside. In comparison, Everest rises to a higher overall altitude, but it is a mere 3962 meters (13,000 ft) above the area around it. These interesting characteristics of Denali help to make it a popular climb, particularly with those who have aspirations of taking on an 8000-meter peak at some point.
Interestingly enough, ExWeb has an article today that reports that there has been exceptionally great weather on Denali so far this season. That has led to a surprisingly high success rate for so early in the season. According to the story, more than 157 climbers have already summited this year, with 226 total attempts. That puts the success rate at 69%, far above the typical 52% that is the historical average and light years better than last year’s dismal 41%. 2012 was an especially bad year for weather with very few good windows for going up to the summit.
ExWeb says that there are 984 climbers registered to attempt Denali this year and most of them (909) will go up the standard West Buttress route. At the moment, there are 397 climbers on the mountain, with the biggest pushes yet to come. The National Park Service actually limits the number of permits issued (what a novel concept!) to just 1500 during the peak season to help keep congestion to a minimum and allow them to lend aid as needed. With this spate of good weather, it has been reportedly quite thus far.
Over the coming weeks we’re sure to hear a lot of stories about the climbs on Denali. One of the more prominent teams that we’ll be watching will be the aptly named Expedition Denali, a group that consists of all African-American climbers who are hoping to inspire youth of color to follow in their footsteps and to become more engaged with outdoor adventure. A worthy cause to be sure.